About a Boy Who Likes Movies, by Kyle Anderson
About 25 minutes into Richard Ayoade’s Submarine I became aware that the film was very “French New-Wavy.” One wouldn’t expect that, or at least I wouldn’t, from a coming-of-age film set in generically-in-the-past Wales. But as I noted the film’s use of veritae camera, jump cutting, and moving freeze-frames with a certain “Oh, that’s pretty cool,” dismissive attitude, it immediately became VERY cool when I caught that the lead character, Oliver Tate, played Craig Roberts, was a himself fan of French New Wave films, evidenced by having posters on his wall of Jean-Pierre Melville’s films Le Samourai, and Le Cercle Rouge. It’s not obvious or telegraphed, but once noticed, it adds even more enjoyment. The filming techniques were derived from its lead character’s state of mind and not simply done for the sake of cineastes. That Ayoade understood both cinema and his own characters so well immediately takes the film to a new level of enjoyment. Because I too am a pretentious film buff.
Submarine tells the story of 15-year-old schoolboy Oliver and his desire to both win over the arty, complicated girl at school, Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige), as well as save the marriage of his parents, Lloyd and Jill (Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins). Oliver is a very affected youth ever-searching for the next affectation. He doesn’t know who he is, really, but reads every book possible and sees every movie in an attempt to find out. He’s not necessarily an outcast at his school, and surely in his mind he’s very popular, but he admittedly tries to lay low. A very funny early scene depicts what he believe would happen if he were to die. Every member of school mourns him endlessly, and indeed the entire nation of Wales has near-constant candlelight vigils, until he finally returns, bathed in radiant light, saying he had become more powerful than they could possibly imagine. It’s the kind of elaborate fantasy a lot of lonely kids have, but in this case is seen through the lens of a person who is cine-literate beyond their years.
The film is set up into three parts plus a prologue and an epilogue, each signified by a swell of overly dramatic music and a caption over black. The first of the parts depicts Oliver’s budding relationship with the strange and quirky Jordana. Jordana is kind of a bully and despises anything approaching romance, but through their nightly arson and vandalism, they grow to really need one another. The second part is Oliver’s attempt to repair the rocky relationship of his parents and block the possible adulterous interaction between his mom and former flame, new-age guru Graham Purvis, played with ridiculous gusto by Paddy Considine. Saying nothing of the performances of the adults, who are truly brilliant, the scenes with Oliver interacting with Jordana and others his own age seem to work better and I found it much easier to connect to them. Paige and Roberts are electric on the screen and were easily the battery that energized the rest of the story. While one can understand why a young boy would try to save his parent’s marriage, it is Oliver’s relationship with Jordana that truly anchors the film and I could easily have watched an entire film of that.
The film employs flashbacks, cutaways, freeze-frames, slow motion, and a bevy of other blatantly artificial movie stuff, but never once did I feel like the film itself wasn’t genuine. The characters all feel real, even when we see them in a surrealistic situation. I went into the movie assuming I’d get Wes Anderson-light, but, while certain themes are similar, Submarine is its own beast. Known in the United Kingdom for his television acting, writing, and directing, Richard Ayoade also directed the Pulp Fiction episode of this past season’s “Community.” He clearly knows movies and displays it without being distracting about it. His first feature film is a truly funny, touching, and authentic story of people dealing with imperfect relationships. He is definitely a filmmaker to watch in the future. Submarine is playing in select cities and is well worth a look, easily enjoyed by cinephiles and non-cinephiles alike.